Hong Kong is one of the world’s most vibrant and busiest cities. Its underground and light rail system is a testament to this, with over two billion trips per year supported by the service. There are 90 railway stations and 68 light rail stops on the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network, stretching across 220km of track. While a bustling economy like Hong Kong relies on seamless connectivity, when you consider Hong Kong’s complex geography and the harsh environment in its underground transit system, it’s clear that providing commuters with 100 percent uptime is no easy feat.

Taking an innovative, flexible approach

As a MTR partner, Radio Frequency Engineering Limited (RFE), a BAI Communications company, is helping to provide cellular and free Wi-Fi communications across the Hong Kong underground and light rail systems. Mobile and public safety connectivity services are provided by three mobile network operators, while all MTR stations feature a free Wi-Fi service for passengers. This entire system requires constant project management, design, supply, installation, testing, commissioning and maintenance, all of which must be done without disruption to the train services.

RFE technicians face many time pressures – conducting work in tunnels and many other areas is prohibited until train services stop at 1:00am. With these services resuming as early as 3:30am, it leaves a narrow window of opportunity to access, work on and vacate an area. Fitting the required work into the short timeslot can be challenging, especially when it can take up to 50 minutes to simply walk through the tunnel to the work location. RFE uses lightweight RF test tools weighing 3-4kg, instead of conventional tools weighing 20kg, and which still deliver the same accuracy and allows engineers to get to work sites quicker.

A further example of RFE innovation is its use of a novel platform ladder for safe working at height. Lightweight and easy to carry, the platform eliminates the time-consuming construction of scaffolding conventionally used, creating a time-saving of around 30%, and ensuring there are no delays or disruptions to a passenger’s commute.

Meeting future demand

Constantly looking for ways to improve project delivery and create better technical solutions, RFE adopts a modular design for its systems, simplifying maintenance and future expansion. Deployed components are wideband and will support foreseeable future spectrum allocations. This means that when the network undergoes an upgrade, changes will be minimal, with low costs and little impact on underground services.

RFE is also introducing state-of-the-art communications technology. Recently RFE deployed a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) with Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology on an extension of the West Island Line underground. The extension comprises three new stations and the network delivers up to 600Mbps data rates for mobile users. The cellular system for the West Island Line was completed within five days – RFE’s expertise and efficiency was recognised with a GOLD Quality Award for this in 2015. These are Hong Kong’s MTR Projects Quality, Safety, Environmental and Stakeholder Engagement Awards.

It’s clear that innovative work practices, equipment and flexible planning are key to ensuring the transport network has full connectivity and is seamlessly maintained. Recent initiatives, such as driverless trains, which were first introduced to the network in 2016, are also fully supported by RFE. As the transport system continues to expand and demand for ever-better services rises, RFE is dedicated to looking for new ways to provide state-of-the-art technology to deploy safely and on-time.

Find out more about how RFE is keeping MTR passengers connected here.